A new SWPL 'disorder'
0 comment Monday, May 19, 2014 |
This may fall under the SWPL (Stuff White People Like) category, but according to The Guardian, the latest 'eating disorder' is orthrexia:
The condition, orthorexia nervosa, affects equal numbers of men and women, but sufferers tend to be aged over 30, middle-class and well-educated.
The condition was named by a Californian doctor, Steven Bratman, in 1997, and is described as a "fixation on righteous eating". Until a few years ago, there were so few sufferers that doctors usually included them under the catch-all label of "Ednos" � eating disorders not otherwise recognised. Now, experts say, orthorexics take up such a significant proportion of the Ednos group that they should be treated separately.
"I am definitely seeing significantly more orthorexics than just a few years ago," said Ursula Philpot, chair of the British Dietetic Association's mental health group. "Other eating disorders focus on quantity of food but orthorexics can be overweight or look normal. They are solely concerned with the quality of the food they put in their bodies, refining and restricting their diets according to their personal understanding of which foods are truly 'pure'."
Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives are also out.
The obsession about which foods are "good" and which are "bad" means orthorexics can end up malnourished. Their dietary restrictions commonly cause sufferers to feel proud of their "virtuous" behaviour even if it means that eating becomes so stressful their personal relationships can come under pressure and they become socially isolated.''
Well, I am reluctant to designate every problem or quirk people have as a ''disorder'' requiring mental health treatment, and most of us would say that eating healthy is a good and desirable thing, but it is a fact that there can be too much of a good thing. Moderation, even in concern for one's health, is appropriate. But it seems some people go overboard with whatever they do, making it the focus of an excessive interest, or a source of fear.
And I definitely know, and have known, people who would fall into this category. Most often it is seen among women and adolescent girls, although I am sure there are some men who become 'orthrexics' too.
This trend is one that has been present in our society for several decades, although it seemed to really take off during the 1960s and 70s, with the counterculture. Those who were part of that movement tended to dabble in Eastern religions, which often prescribe vegetarianism as not only healthier, but as being spiritually advanced. 'Meat is murder' as the vegetarians like to say, and eating meat is barbaric. So the Guardian article is not far off , in describing foods as being seen as ''good'' and ''bad'' or that some kinds of dietary habits are virtuous. These 'orthorexics' may not believe in God, or may believe in countless small-g 'gods'. They are often scoffers at Puritanical concerns with sexual morality, but the orthorexic morality centers largely on food and/or fitness. Not every 'orthorexic' is especially fit, but oftentimes they are exercise fanatics as well as food fanatics.
One of the books of the counterculture era that had a part in this trend was a book called Sugar Blues, by William Duffy, which appeared in 1975. After that, most young people and many older people became convinced that sugar was the most evil substance one could ingest. I heard many believers say that 'sugar is more addictive than cocaine.' Sugar was blamed for all manner of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems, most notably 'hyperactivity' in children. Many parents to this day insist that sugar is to blame for their children's rowdiness or restlessness. However studies done in reputable institutions debunked that idea, though it's useless to tell believing parents that. They will insist, loudly, that their children do misbehave after eating sugar.
'The latest group to join the debate is the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which recently released a report charging that the government, professional agencies and the food industry have been ignoring evidence that diet affects behavior. However, the majority of studies so far haven't found a connection, and most in the medical industry maintain there is no known link between sugar and hyperactivity.
Still, many concerned parents feel certain they've seen a cause-and-effect relationship between sweets and rowdiness. Admittedly, more research would be needed to completely rule out the possibility of a link, but there are many plausible reasons other than sugar why a child may be bouncing off the walls.''
That last phrase 'bouncing off the walls' is one that parents invariably use when describing the behavior of their children following an ingestion of sugar.
Other evidence continues to discredit this idea but it does not convince parents or adults who believe that they themselves are also made 'hyper' by sugar.
The notion of a connection was first promulgated by an allergist named Benjamin Feingold back in the 70s, but by the time I was in a well-regarded graduate program in Education back in the 80s, we were taught that the Feingold Diet, which purported to treat hyperactivity by diet, was discredited and considered of no value. But it still lives on.
The latest trend in food faddism seems to be that people are diagnosed as having 'gluten intolerance', which requires a very restricted diet. I am wary of this, as it suddenly seems to be something of an 'epidemic.' Googling the subject brings up a lot of hits which seem to be to what I would term 'food faddist' websites, with idiosyncratic ideas about nutrition and health. But one wonders how many people are being diagnosed with this condition now, and how real this seeming 'epidemic' is.
Personally I have learned to take all these food scare stories with a huge grain of salt (and yes, I know salt is supposed to be bad for us.) Please notice that every day on the ''news'' or in your dead tree media, there will be the usual nagging stories about the harm done by this food or that food, and scolding articles about what we must eat in order to live longer and lose weight and slow down aging and 'feel better about ourselves.'' These are all the health equivalent of the Christian 'what must I do to be saved?' pieces. These sermons, however, promise only to extend our natural life for a few years, though occasionally there is the crackpot article about how in the future we will all be immortal, if we eat and exercise properly, and if all-knowing ''science'' finds a way to halt aging altogether. This is, I think, what many of the orthorexics are thinking of: the issue of human mortality. Many of the fussy eaters I know are obsessed with not getting old and dying. They are looking for the fountain of youth and hoping 'science' will grant them immortality.
However, for many women and girls, it isn't anything as profound as that; most just want to get thinner and stay thin. Getting fat is the fate worse than death.
I know of anorexic or bulimic young women for whom eating and food occupy their every thought. This is sad, and it's simply a distortion of the 'orthorexic' lifestyle.
As for all the food nags in the government and media, I notice they often cancel each other out, as a study reported one week will be contradicted by another study announced the next week. How can anyone know which to believe?
It seems that "all things in moderation -- including moderation", is the best motto in life.
As I noted at the beginning of this piece, the concern or even obsession with healthy eating, or fitness in general, is very much a SWPL thing. According to the official SWPL list, 'hummus' and 'whole foods and grocery co-ops' are among the Stuff White People like.
Earlier in life, I was a vegetarian and shopped at health food stores. Yes, I suppose I might have been an 'orthorexic' at one point, but I grew out of it. But never did I see 'people of color' in the health food stores. The idea of eating organic and avoiding the unhealthy foods is not something that seems important to nonwhites. I can't say why that is, but I think it's pretty generally true. I have known a couple of black women who might have been vegetarians but they were exceptions. It's a White thing to worry about whether one's food is healthy.
That being said, it's a habit that does get carried too far, with some SWPL types seeming to use strict diets to flagellate themselves in a way, as medieval penitents did. I've eaten plenty of 'organic' foods, and some of them are the culinary equivalent of a hair shirt. Much of the healthy food is not at all tasty or satisfying; I am convinced that the people who eat it are ascetics of a sort, who no longer really taste their food, but consume it only because they have to eat something to sustain themselves.
Maybe the people who eat recklessly, who eat all the unhealthy foods with no regard for their well-being or fitness, are people who are simply prone to risk-taking, the gambler types. The orthorexics are people who have somehow substituted dietary fussiness as a kind of self-denying religious discipline.

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